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I begin this article with a disclosure: I have never stepped foot on a skateboard. Were I to ever have stepped foot on a skateboard, I would have most likely hurt myself. Some people have talents, but all people have things that will just never happen. Recognizing those things is acknowledging one’s limitations. I only note this to preface my thoughts on learning how to do tricks on a skateboard. Whether you take my skateboarding history – or lack thereof – with a small or large grain of salt, or a grain of something else such as wheat (see below), is entirely up to you. Let us consider skateboard pedagogy.

A magnified section of a grain of wheat clipped from issue number 275 of the Scientific American Supplement (April 9, 1881)
A magnified section of a grain of wheat – clipped from the April 9, 1881 issue of the Scientific American Supplement

Flipping a Skateboard Before Riding a Skateboard

The plaza in front of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall was taken over by skateboarders a few years ago. Their grip has not loosened since. To walk within a block of Borough Hall is to hear that grating sound of wheels on pavement.

Every time I walk past Borough Hall – which is not too often in part because of the skateboarders – I observe something about the skateboarders.

Most of them are not good at riding skateboards. Not all, but the vast majority.

Now, granting that I am not at all a skateboard expert, my observational skills are sufficient for identifying people who are genuinely terrible at riding skateboards. This is not like dissecting some jump off the half-pipe in the Olympics – it is not difficult to see that a person is wobbling while barely remaining upright on a skateboard.

In light of the fact that most of the skateboarders are not good at simply riding skateboards, and would be ill-advised to try commuting on one, I have one question.

Why are they all trying to do tricks?

Worse still, why are their friends, who are usually also vertically-challenged on skateboards, filming their repeated failures to jump while on a skateboard and land on the skateboard?

They are not even close to having the skills necessary to perform tricks These people are focusing on trying to figure out how not to fall as they start the trick.

Learn to Ride a Skateboard First

While I again note that I am no skateboarding expert, should one not master the skateboarding basics before trying to do tricks and stick jumps? I have my suspicion that every person who is capable of doing basic and advanced skateboard tricks is at least proficient in riding a skateboard normally. Let us think of riding a skateboard normally as a necessary (albeit not sufficient) prerequisite to being able to do skateboard tricks.

If one cannot ride a skateboard in a straight line without some discomfort, he or she should not even think about jumping while on the skateboard. Moreover, this person should definitely not have his or her friend record him or her while jumping on the skateboard.

What are these people doing? 150 takes for a 10-second YouTube clip of a person barely avoiding a trip to the hospital while doing a skateboard trick?

On Skateboarding and Natural Talent

Many of the subpar skateboards I see at Borough Hall and elsewhere are children. However, there are older teens and adults, similarly subpar, in their midst. Now, if one is passionate about learning how to skateboard, by all means he or she can pursue this passion somewhere out of my way. As for tricks, however, I must suggest considering this thing called reality.

Some athletic endeavors depend very much on natural talent. Bike racing, marathon running, gymnastics, and figure skating are all examples of natural talent athletic endeavors. That is, it should be obvious not-too-long after throwing a child or older athlete out there whether there is anything involving talent present. Skateboard tricks, I dare suggest, is one of these endeavors. Some people, through work and effort, may achieve some level of proficiency. But work and effort only go so far without talent.

An Anecdote – The Talented Kid

A few years ago, I saw an example of genuine skateboarding talent about two blocks from Borough Hall and the future denizens of the local emergency room. On a wide ledge about five feet off the ground was a small child on a skateboard. He could not have been more than six or seven years old. An adult who very much looked the skateboarding type was walking alongside him on the sidewalk below. The small child rode his skateboard with speed to the ledge, jumped a good distance, and calmly stuck the landing on the sidewalk below in a very casual way.

I have no idea if the kid is ultimately going places, but he had talent that anyone could see. He was one with his skateboard, and he had the innate coordination and balance to casually do something that would have left anyone around Borough Hall flailing and falling . Furthermore, the kid had not only talent but fearlessness – another good quality for skateboard tricks. While you can see the terrible skateboarders thinking about how to avoid falling instead of landing their tricks, this kid did something where one mistake would have left him with a broken something-or-other seemingly without thinking at all.

In Tim Krabbé’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Rider, he described what it is like racing down a mountain for someone who took up bike racing at age 29.

[R]acing downhill is a matter of nerves, and from the very start my nerves have thought: to hell with you and your bicycle racing.

Tim Krabbé in The Rider, by Tim Krabbé

There is a lesson here for the late-life converts to jumping on skateboards.

A Way Forward For Aspiring Tony Hawks

I probably dated myself with using Tony Hawk as the skateboarder for the section header here. No matter, I often date myself.

From my survey, we glean some principles for sound skateboard trick instruction.

To begin, those who dream of doing skateboard tricks should first learn how to actually ride a skateboard. If one cannot ride a skateboard well, he or she is unlikely to be good at tricks. One should be able to ride a skateboard as a mode of transportation without falling, and without being constantly afraid of falling.

If, and only if, an individual attains proficiency riding a skateboard, he or she may begin learning how to do tricks on or with the skateboard. When learning how to do tricks, a video camera is not necessary. Rest assured that no one wants to watch a semi-competent person jump around on a skateboard. There is more than enough content of genuinely gifted skateboarders out there for fans of the sport to enjoy.

Finally, one should also take age into account. For example, if “Michael” finally becomes able to ride a skateboard for two blocks at age 35, he should probably think long and hard before trying to jump off anything. Chances are he will never be too good at it. Furthermore, consider the potential medical bills.

The genuinely talented young skateboarders out there can jump off whatever they want. If they enjoy flying off high ledges or ramps and can do so, I doubt that anyone is going to stop them anyway.

With that, I conclude the brief thoughts of someone who always knew better than to even touch a skateboard.